Amy Schumer’s brand of humour is not my beverage of preference. But I don’t have to like her work to acknowledge her need to get paid her worth, just like her male peers in the stand-up comedy industry. After finding out that comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock earn much more for their Netflix specials, Schumer demanded a pay hike for her own Netflix special ‘The Leather Special’.
Naturally, social media users went into furores of ‘how dare she’s and ‘she doesn’t deserve to be on the same platform as Chris Rock’.
Quite a few argued that it wasn’t because she’s a woman that she’s doesn’t deserve to be paid the same amount as Rock and Chappelle, but because she does not have the same credibility and experience. But Schumer never demanded to be paid as much as Rock or Chappelle. She only demanded that she be paid more than what she was initially earning, recognising an increase in market value and Netflix’s pay standards for stand-up comedians (of which Rock and Chappelle are a part).
The ‘no credibility and experience’ would be a fair argument to make, had we not heard this excuse used like a template for every conversation about equal pay. This argument can be used to justify any pay gap, for that matter. But this argument is nowhere to be found if more experienced female artists were to be paid more than lesser established male artists. Charlize Theron demanded that she be paid $ 10 million more when she learnt that her The Huntsman: Winter’s War co-star Chris Hemsworth was being paid more than she was. Now, Theron is an Oscar-winning actress with a barrage of meaty roles in her bag, far outweighing Hemsworth in experience. So, why did she have to fight for equal pay? Shouldn’t her experience automatically entitle her to be paid more than Hemsworth?
This argument also completely discounts the sheer privilege male stand-up comics and actors have enjoyed for years to garner their hats of experience in the first place. In comparison, we see far less female stand-up comics in the industry due to blatant sexism. Closer to home, there’s been intense debate about sexism in India’s comedy scene, with podcasts and YouTube videos trying to decode the ‘boys only’ club.
When Aditi Mittal’s Netflix special came out, we saw reactions similar to the ones directed at Schumer. People dismissed Mittal’s special as “not funny” but shrouded their sexism in the mask of ‘it’s not because she’s a woman but because she’s just not good’.
Schumer’s market value increased with her Emmy win for Inside Amy Schumer and her first film Trainwreck, so she decided to hike her fees – a very regular career move. But of course, the internet turned it into a you-can’t-be-paid-as-much-as-Chris Rock debate, only highlighting how easy it is to jump the sexism gun. Rock himself directed her Netflix special and doesn’t seem to be raising any objection to her demands. Irrespective of whether one likes her brand of humour, the objection to Schumer demanding to get paid her worth needs serious rethinking and history lessons on sexism in the entertainment industry. We need to ask ourselves if our problem really stems from Schumer, as a ‘less experienced’ comic, getting paid her due or from an inability to understand the staggering pay gap in the industry and the desperate attempts required to seal it – even if don’t get a few laughs out of it.